Hidden In The Coffers

They stand there in every house: boxes for putting things in.

Like our wrinkles, their metalwork betrays their age. A chest can have four generations of locks and hinges on it. The one at the Kent church of Yalding has pin hinges which betray its maker to have been working between 1350 and 1450. Yet its most recent hinge is 19th century.

And they haunt our stories too. Like the one which proved so compelling that several great English houses lay claim to it. It found its way into print in 1809 in a newspaper article in The Monthly Anthology And Boston review.Β 

It concerns a wedding which goes horribly wrong.

A prosperous wedding, too, which took place at one of the great houses.Β After the speeches and the wine and the entertainment everyone felt like stretching their legs a little. And so a game of hide and seek was proposed.

The bride searched the house for a perfect place and settled on a surefire winner: the family coffer, a great oak dust-covered thing which sat hunched in the attic, handed from generation to generation; blackened wood with the quaintest locks and hinges.

She opened the lid and climbed in. And she made a fatal mistake in assuming that because the box was ancient, it would not be efficient. Those Mediaeval locksmiths knew their craft.

The lid clicked into place above her head, and she found she could not move it. And the box was so out of the way that no-one found it for a very long time.

Fifty years, to be exact.

It was not a pleasant surprise to find a dessicated corpse dressed in a bridal gown, when the new owners did a clear out of the old family’s effects.

The lady’s ghost is still playing hide and seek, with a slightly puzzled air, trapped in a time loop, searching for a man who went on to live a full and long life. He lies sleeping peacefully in the crypt, but she cannot settle.

Grim contents: but we all have boxes, some great and some very small, which hide our most precious things.

We stash them away, and then years later we open them, and gape at the contents: old photographs, jewellery we had forgotten, books archived, a postcard from someone we once loved.

There is a new version of this box: a cyber version. You stash things away online and forget about them and then you stumble upon them, and think, wow, did I really do that?

This morning, very early, I pottered off to a favourite coffer: my audioboo account. I love sound. I think it’s the perfect medium: books should be read aloud to hear the cadences, events recorded first hand.

There was an item, lodged in a dusty corner of the coffer, which I had not seen before.

I pressed play.

Have I told you about my daughter? Here at home we see this extraordinary soul in all her glory: but the rest of the world never sees it, for she is a worrier, locked in a world of anxiety which acts as a sort of mask to the world.

Maddie is not anxious when she talks to the recorder.

What I found was a recording of part of a book which Maddie wrote during the year. She adores Jacqueline Wilson’s books about a Victorian orphan, Hetty Feather, and her book mirrors Wilson’s closely. But the writing, and the reading, is all hers. Hand on heart, I have never heard it before in my life.

Maddie, as I type, is eleven years old.

Come and take a look inside the coffers.

 

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54 thoughts on “Hidden In The Coffers

  1. A charming piece, Kate, and how true of our secret stashes … though the wedding story is indeed grim.

    I have a tape recording that I found recently. It’s one my son made at eight when he dad was taking him on a camping trip and he was worried about my being home alone. The sweetest thing. Tears!

  2. Someday, when I am very, very old (instead of today, in which I am just old), I will be reading about or hearing the words of Maddie in a book or on an audio or in some way not yet dreamed of, and I will smile a knowing smile of when she was a child, way across the pond. She always amazes me and continues to do so with your discovery of her story, Kate. Thank you for sharing.

    Can you imagine finding a 50 year bridal corpse? How horrid. My family has a slew of “Louie” stories. Big Al reminds me a little of our Louie. Stories of him as a child are always regaled at gatherings. His family lived next door to ours. One night, dusk falling, we all did the nightly exercise of finding Louie. Neighbors would often become involved. No one wanted Louie spending the night. Anyways, panic was setting in. My aunt went into her dining room to get something and heard a faint call of “Mommy”. Something told her to look into the accordion case. There, inside, was Louie, thankfully safe and found none-too-soon. I think I just wrote a post of my own. tee hee

  3. It sounds like Maddie has a flair for the dramatic, in addition to writing. I can’t wait to see who she grows up to be.

    When we were growing up, my brother’s toy box was an old trunk. Not nearly as old as the ones you describe, but I always tried to imagine where it had been before it found us.

  4. How utterly delightful, Kate! Congrats to Maddie on a beautiful job, so reminiscent of your writing, although we haven’t yet had the pleasure of your reading πŸ™‚ Super creepy bridal story too – not sure that I’ll ever see a trunk again without remembering it!

    1. Hi Naomi, hope you are all well πŸ™‚ I have known that story for a lifetime: my father wrote a song about it which aired on the radio. I have viewed trunks with healthy respect ever since.

  5. I am so curious about the book. Wanting to read all of it. Maddie is amazing, not only her writing, but the way she reads, playing the parts.

    1. Thank you, Banno. It is so lovely to hear others say it. The outside world never sees this Maddie: her school is wonderful but would, I think, never dream that she is capable of this. It’s one of the reasons I try to put all my charges at their ease when I teach: such talents sit there waiting for the children to feel able to share them. But you, on the other hand, are an old hand at drawing out such talents. Would I ever be able to see your film here in the UK, once it is out? I’ve so loved following its making. Your photographs are wonderful.

      1. It is always difficult to know a child entirely, and draw out her talents. My experience with the children in Garhwal was so inspiring for me. I’ve been meaning to write a post about that, they changed my life in so many ways. I’ll make sure that I at least send you a DVD of the film, with subtitles. πŸ™‚ It would be lovely to show it to children across the world, and see how they relate to this story of a remote village in India.

  6. The story of the wedding is awful. I went to the original article, and it doesn’t seem to be clear as to whether or not the husband learned of his wife’s death. Did he die before the discovery?

    1. Good question, JG. This is folklore, and it shifts and changes with the wind. Not a particularly profound source, but this summarises where you might find other versions: http://urbanlegends.about.com/od/classics/a/The-Missing-Bride.htm.

      I heard the tale when I was young, attached, I think, to a house in Kent. I believe there is mention of people searching high and low in many of the versions, but I have never heard anything about the poor heartbroken groom and his response.

  7. Interesting story about the trunk but I’m skeptical. If people were searching high and low for her, it baffles me why no one thought to look in the trunk much less why it remained closed for 50 years without anyone having any reason to open it. Is it possible that the smell of a rotting corpse would go undetected or was the 19th century full of so many putrid odors no one thought twice about that one?

    Loved Maddie’s reading and writing. She’s quite talented!

    1. She surprised even me, Lameadventures….as for the trunk, it is very definitely folklore. It sits on the bench with stories like the boy who was abducted by fairies and the bloke who married his wife because she had a solid gold arm. There are countless different versions of it, and they continue to be made up today on both sides of the pond. I’d be inclined to side with you: but I do love a good yarn πŸ˜€

  8. Why do I have the feeling, listening to Maddie, that I’m hearing a young version of Kate! There’s something about the inflection and emphasis, and the delight in sharing a story, that (despite the different medium) is most definitely familiar–and wonderful. It’s a beautiful thing to see our children appropriating the best of ourselves for their own purposes.

    1. I suppose Maddie has had eleven long years of concentrated Kate. She’s beginning to carve her own way now: little things show she’s on her way to a place called Maddie. I’m pleased: we all want our children to be wholly their own. But there are genes to contend with too. I have no idea how much nature we share.

  9. The mystery of the missing bride … an intriguing story. I love ghost stories. When I was a kid, I used to listen a radio show called “Strange But True.” This would have fit right in.
    Maddie does have a great knack for telling a story. Suspenseful and real emotion as she switched from one character to another.
    Thanks for visiting my blog and commenting. I enjoyed your post, too.

      1. Thanks, Kate. I really admire Gandhi and have had that quote posted on my classroom wall.
        I’m glad you liked my story. I had reservations about posting it – jitters if you will. Never sure how people will react to the personal stuff.

  10. You’ve shared the horrific and the sublime, Kate. The story of the trunk is chilling and just an awful tale…but the sound of your Maddie reading just makes me feel good! She is a lovely reader, and although I’m not surprised by that, it’s pure delight to listen! I did set up an Audioboo account after you first introduced it to me, but I haven’t yet tested it out. I just must record Sophia and Karina while they have their little girl voices! πŸ™‚ D

  11. I agree with you that books should be read aloud – I read to my family all the time. I like listening to audiobooks for myself, and you can tell Maddie from me, that she is better than many of the pros I have listened to!

  12. First the horror story that scared me and then Maddie that enthralled me. She is is just 11 and already reading such stuff. Good going.

  13. What an awful way to die, locked in a trunk in the attic, all for a game of hide and seek!

    As to Maddie, her story is charming and very well crafted in the excerpt, and her reading quite poised. Seriously cool, that.

    1. Thanks, Cameron. Audioboo is a wonderful resource for those of us who like to hear our stories read out loud. We’re an audio family: my great hero is Alistair Cooke. I used to hang on every word of his letters from America.

      1. I actually put the app on my iPhone after your interviews with Al at the Jubilee. Felix has used it to send birthday wishes to some of his grown up friends. He’s enchanted.

  14. From the get go, this story caught my attention. From the bride ghost, of which I have a picture of a similar ghost bride which I shot in Scotland many years ago; ‘believe it or not’.

    Then I read, ‘There is a new version of this box: a cyber version. You stash things away online and forget about them and then you stumble upon them, and think, wow, did I really do that?’ – I think we think a like in some regards -the cyber cardboard box.

    You weaved yourself a heart touch’r with this one. For yourself and us tag-a-longers. Masterfully sewn, without hint of the stitch. Oh, you mothers are sly. More than just a post I think. Thank you for the sharing of a daughters voice.

  15. What a wonderful surprise for you!

    We have an old trunk that was used for the Hub’s family to emigrate to SA in 1970. It has been a tv stand, a toy box, a junk box, clothes storage, bedside table…. Tory Boy has demanded it, once he has his own place.

  16. oh, Maddie was a delight to listen to, quite a fine artist you have in your midst…(as was Big Al saying a msg for the Queen!) Audioboo is rather fun, is it not?

    The story reminded me of when I worked as an intern for the state historical. I recatalogued the NAm collection. One afternoon, in the corner of an old metal cabinet I found a oak box…inside lay two skulls nested between layers of baby blue silk. We sent the skulls to our archeologists for forensics, but I did find the old letter archived that informed they had been part of a deceased farmers donated collection. He was an avid collector of Indian artifacts found on his land…go figure!

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